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The Chicago Wolves are considering going fully independent, how would that work?
Let's take a look at the AHL news of the day.
Reports surfaced on Wednesday that the Chicago Wolves are considering going fully independent within the AHL and dropping their affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Speaking to those who are in the know in the AHL, there is certainly some fire to that smoke.
It could be a fascinating throwback to the way things used to be in the AHL, especially in an era where the league has become more and more of an NHL-owned and driven model.
The Wolves have always been unique, unlike other minor-league teams, they actively try to compete for market share with a nearby NHL club. While the Texas Stars support the Dallas Stars and the Grad Rapids Griffins support the Detroit Red Wings, the Wolves are actively trying to take part of the hockey pie from the Blackhawks.
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Even in recent years, there have been rumblings that Wolves ownership has been frustrated that having to play younger players has cost the team a chance to win the Calder Cup.
But being independent, without an NHL affiliate, would come come with some major hurdles.
For starters, the AHL has a veteran rule where at least 12 of the 18 skaters have to be “development” players that have played less than 260 career pro games. This role is in place because of teams like the Wolves, who used to load up on veterans and beat up on prospects in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Under this independent thinking the Wolves would likely be able to field six formidable AHL players, pay them well by AHL standards too, but could have trouble securing depth throughout the lineup. Trying to find a full lineup of skaters, 12 of them under 260 career games, that aren’t on NHL deals doesn’t feel like a feasible winning formula.
Goalies don’t count for the veteran rule, so Chicago would be able to make a splash in net, potentially jumping into that market for the typical NHL No. 3 many organizations sign to mentor a goalie prospect.
From my understanding the Wolves would still be open to taking individual player assignments from NHL teams. There’s no rule that says an NHL team must loan their prospect to their respective AHL affiliate, so in theory Chicago could build it’s roster this way, but it’s hard to see any high-profile prospect moving outside their NHL team’s umbrella for more playing time.
Aside from a NHL team with two high-profile goalie prospects, looking to get both starting minutes, there isn’t much upside to sending a prospect to Chicago to work within a different system than the NHL club.
For the Hurricanes, if the affiliation is dropped with Chicago, it’s not as simple as just creating a new AHL team. The AHL is happy with the 32 team format right now, the league isn’t expected to expand without the NHL also expanding — case-in-point, the Vegas Golden Knights had to buy the San Antonio Rampage and move them to Henderson, they couldn’t just start an expansion franchise int he desert.
Carolina will likely have to find a shared or split affiliation for its prospects going forward. Maybe that means coming back to terms with the Charlotte Checkers, maybe it means a deal with an independent team like the Springfield Thunderbirds (to be clear this is speculation, not a report.)
Carolina could also work out a partial deal to send just some of it’s prospects to Chicago, and maybe that’s the solution here. The Wolves get to focus on signing AHL veterans, point-per-game 4-A type players willing to take a big AHL pay day, get a smattering of players from the Hurricanes and piece meal the rest of the roster with younger players that have fallen through NHL organizational cracks.
It’s a fascinating development, it truly is.